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The big idea behind Chicago Newsroom is that we assemble involved, knowledgeable people around the table and we yack about the week’s local news. Most often we tap journalists, but you’ll also find historians, political activists, academicians and newsmakers in the mix, too.

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CN Oct 20 2016


Well, now it’s out there. Mayor Emanuel would like a third term. And he’s making the case – gingerly at first, but possibly more confidently in the future – that he’s getting Chicago’s fiscal mess under control.

Bill Ruthhart was among the first journalists to touch the topic after it was discussed with the Mayor at an editorial board meeting last week.

“Politics are always at play with Rahm Emanuel,” Ruthhart explains. “And when he gave his budget speech recently there was a heck of a lot more than a spending plan for 2017. It had a very strong ‘we’ve turned the corner’ theme. We had four unfunded, very dramatically underfunded pensions, police and fire, municipal workers, laborers – they are all a path to solvency he says, right?  He has raised taxes dramatically to do it, record property tax, huge phone fee, the 30% increase in water and sewer bills this year to do that. But he can turn around and say ‘I made the tough decisions that I told you I was going to make and I fixed this.’ Now, he’s fixed it for a good 5 years as the pension payments ramp up they have the money to cover that.”

But, he explains, that’s just the first five years. “We’ve done a hard look at it and down the road beyond 5 years from now, which is beyond his current term, very likely they will have to come up with even more money to keep the pensions sustainable.”

A major factor in this possibly rosier outlook for the mayor is the fact that two education strikes were averted this past week.

The CTU and CPS came to a tentative agreement, and the agreement must now be ratified by the rank-and-file. The union’s House of Delegates voted their approval on Wednesday night. But WBEZ’s Becky Vevea tells us it wasn’t exactly a celebration.

“I do find it kind of interesting that there was a third of people in that room that weren’t in support of it,” she explains.” Typically, this leadership and the caucus that they come from has gotten a lot of support from that bigger body, but I think you do see some sections of the Union that are disappointed, particularly special education teachers, some support staff who feel that there’s just not enough in this contract to protect their caseloads and protect them from the conditions they see as pretty bad right now in the school system.”

Averting a strike was high on Emanuel’s priority list, too.

“We’ve polled on this time and time again,” explains Ruthhart. “Chicagoans side with the Chicago Teachers’ Union 3 to 1 over the Mayor when it comes to education. He knows that. He does plenty of polling himself.  He’s got a whole host of issues at the Police Department under federal investigation. The last thing he needed was a teachers’ strike, so when it came down to the final 24 hours at the insistence of the Mayor and Forrest Claypool, that they were going to insist that the teachers pay their full 9% toward their pensions, that suddenly went away in the final hours. So did sweeping up the extra TIF surplus to help free up some funding.

It’s a complex agreement, but a key measure was that agreement to move a large bucket of money from  TIF surplus funds to the schools.

“I think that actually was some masterful political maneuvering,’ Vevea asserts,”because last year the TIF surplus that went to CPS was about $80-million. So when the budget came out this summer and they only had $30-million of TIF surplus, I was like oh, this is something they are going to do at the very final hour and they are going to say, “We’re going to give you $50-million more.” That’s apparently what happened.

And Ruthhart adds that the mayor also got to demonstrate his ability to tamp down labor costs. “One of the big talking points, you know we talked about how he gave on the pension pick-up and he gave on the TIF surplus and he gave on classroom guarantees, one of his big talking points afterwards to try to kind of change the topic from that is – there has never been a teachers’ contract, and I would challenge you to find any Union contract ever in Chicago where there’s been back to back years of pay freezes. And so that will be his selling point on that. In tough fiscal times I got them to agree to two years of no pay raises.”

Vevea and her colleagues tried to calculate the cost of this agreement, and they came to the conclusion that, over the four years it’s likely to be cost and revenue-neutral.

Here’s their chart:



“You kind of add it all up and it’s’ about $500-million savings and $500-million of costs,” Vevea explains.  “So you end up kind of cost-neutral, and so again it’s the politics of it. The Mayor, by prolonging a whole year of teachers without a contract allows him to then you know give back some of that money in other areas, like class sizes. You know you saved that money by spending a whole year of not giving them raises and laying people off. You collect all that money into this little thing over here and then you say, “Here, class sizes.” You can give things back in other areas.

Is it true that there’s a thaw in the relationship between the mayor and CTU President Karen Lewis? Well, at least publicly there is.

“She wasn’t calling him the Murder Mayor anymore,” Ruthhart points out. “I think she also knew that the teachers’ strike in 2012 was the first one in 25 years, and so nobody knew what that was really going to look like and they had a lot of public support. We’re in an environment now where Chicagoans have paid a bunch of higher taxes just to pay for pensions of police and fire and other things. There’s a lot less sympathy for teachers going on strike for 7% raises or whatever it might have been. So her going on TV and you know dropping bombs on Emanuel to pay-up wasn’t going to play the same as it did last time and she recognized that.

And Emanuel?

“Well I think certainly Emanuel developed a respect for Lewis that he did not have when he was yelling at her in his office in 2011 saying ‘F you’ and all the rest. He I think is the most political of political animals and recognizes someone who is a worthy opponent, and I think he came to recognize that in Lewis. They both talked about how the relationship improved, how they text each other regularly, which we’re still suing to get the Mayor’s text messages.”

And Vevea says ultimately, it might be the teachers themselves who made the deal work. “There are a lot of people who have figured out and have made the calculation that look, maybe this isn’t the best deal. Maybe this isn’t the deal we really would want in a perfect world, but we have to take a deal that fits in the world we’re living in.  And so I think there’s a recognition by a lot of people in the membership…that probably think you know, let’s take this because working yet another year without a contract, good things aren’t going to come of that.”

The other teachers’ strike ended in much the same way, in the middle of the night with a murky, ill-defined agreement, the cost of which still isn’t clear. But the staff at the UNO charters came to an agreement with their schools.

“It would have been the very first charter school teachers’ strike in the whole country as far as everyone that I’ve talked to, the big Unions,” Vevea explains. “NEA, AFT, both said this would be the very first one they know of. The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools said they have never had a teachers strike at a charter school that they are aware of, so that would have been huge. They were really locked in a  bad, tense battle with the UNO charter school network, which actually agreed to a tentative agreement. But they still need to find a million and a half dollars in their budget, and UNO charter school network gets a lot of their funding from CPS. They are going to have to talk with CPS a little bit too, like hey, are we going to get any of that TIF surplus? Is there any revenue option for us? Because they can’t raise taxes. They are not a taxing body.”

Whether the mayor’s slightly elevated standing will continue is anyone’s guess. On this first anniversary of the Laquan McDonald killing, we’re reminded how quickly one incident can completely re-set the political agenda. The Mayor’s new budget calls for major increases in the Chicago Police department.

“Right now ,” Ruthhart concludes, we have more than 1,000 shootings this year than we did at the same time last year. And so it’s also likely that the Department of Justice whenever they come down in the likely federal consent decree probably will require more officers.

So he’s kind of killing two birds with one stone with that, but we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of more officers and adding to the capacity of the police academy. It will be a difficult task to hire enough officers to just keep up with attrition, let alone put more on the street. The attrition issue has been huge for CPD. So while he hasn’t solved that or fixed that, he can at least point to plan he has now.”

Read a full transcript of this show HERE: cn-transcript-oct-20-2016


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CN Oct 13 2016


Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have just had the best few days of his administration. A tentative contract with the teachers, a budget that appears to bring , for the first time in years, some fiscal stability to the city – and let’s not forget the Cubs.

The Daily Line‘s Mike Fourcher says that, yes, the Mayor does have some reason to celebrate. “What Rahm Emanuel has managed to do with the City’s debt and with pensions is that he’s managed to refinance everything so that there is a path to solvency. The trouble is the path to solvency is 40 years long.”

So today’s situation isn’t all that different from the Jim Edgar years, when the Governor created what came to be called the Edgar Ramp. It called for escalating payments for a series of years that would have brought fiscal sanity to the State within a decade or so. But  the state’s politicians pretty much never walked up the ramp.

The agreement with the public schools may be yet another ramp – a fiscal commitment none of its architects will be around to shepherd through.

“Another dirty secret that the city government doesn’t want to talk about,” Fourcher continues, is that “I and other reporters have been hounding the Chicago Public School System in order to tell us what is the true cost of this, and they won’t talk about it. Bobby Otter from the Center for Tax and Budget and Accountability told me, ‘Well, what we should expect is the pension pick-up is going to be an additional $150-million a year and that when they have the cost of living allowance agreements, the COLA agreements go out in years 3 and 4, that will be an additional $50 and $60-million a year that will be on top of that in years 3 and 4 of the contract.’”

So did the Emanuel administration do the right thing?

“There aren’t a whole lot of real positives that came out of this for the City,” he opines. “What we’re really learning now, and it’s taken a couple of days, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union doesn’t want to talk about it because they got a great deal and they want to get all the teachers to ratify it and they don’t want to mess that up, and the Chicago Public Schools…well, it’s not terrible, but it’s not great, and they’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it.”

Fourcher feels more positively about the City’s overall budgetary policies, though.

“When it comes to fiscal management Rahm Emanuel’s administration has really been very good,” he explains. “Alex Holt and Carole Brown have done a very good job. They’ve found a lot of cost controls. They are doing a lot of very reasonable things like instead of just buying gasoline every day what they are doing is they are buying gasoline on the futures market…that’s a big deal. And they are doing all these little things like that that are saving them 10-million, 20-million, 30-million here and that adds up.”

Although he says the City isn’t proposing any glitzy mega-projects, this budget makes solid investments in hundreds of new police officers and detectives, a complete technical makeover of the 311 center, and the replacement of all 345,000 city street lights with LED lamps.

And one of those investments is in a new “Community Schools” concept. “The City has been neglecting the idea that elementary schools in particular are centers of communities,” Fourcher explains, “And that they are more than just a school. It’s where everything in the community comes together. And there’s an interesting thing, which is that I think about 70% of students in the City of Chicago don’t go to their neighborhood school. They are going somewhere else, and so this effort is to try and build up the idea that there are going to be more of these community schools.”

So, in the final analysis, the CPS teachers will all have to vote on the tentative contract.  George Schmidt in Substance News hinted today that it might be “the worst contract in CTU history,” because the teachers didn’t get enough of a raise. Fourcher says not entirely.

“I think that if you’re looking at it from the purely, the situation of how much money is going into the pockets of teachers, yeah, probably it is a bad deal. But when you’re looking at the perspective of how screwed up our school system is in the City of Chicago and how many problems there are in Springfield, I’d say the teachers came out ahead of everybody else.”

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CN Oct 6 2016


There are currently about 115 families residing in the Chicago area who are direct refuges from the war in Syria. In all of Illinois, there are maybe 130 families. What does that mean, in  terms of the big picture?

“Well, says Suzanne Sahloul, founder of the Syrian Community Network, “If you want to put things into perspective, we have close to 5-million people registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees with the UNHCR, 5-million people. We have about 2 to 3-million internally displaced people. We have another 2-million people who are unregistered refugees living in the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Turkey, in Egypt, and so everybody wants to travel or live somewhere else.”

Makes our 130 families – maybe 500 people – look pretty insignificant, doesn’t it?  “So what we’re seeing,” Sahloul continues, “is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and this is the highest number of refugees that we’ve had in the world since the 1940s.”

In fact, adds the University of Chicago’s Jessica Darrow, the count of all the world’s current refugees dwarfs the Syrian numbers. “There’s more than 65-million who are either internally or displaced over a border. And of those the resettlement program worldwide only resettles less than 1% of those people.”

It can take two years, our panelists tell us, to win a coveted sanctioned seat on a flight for Syrians to Chicago. That’s partly because of the rigid screening our State Department applies to asylum-seekers, but it’s also due, in part, to the tiny numbers of placements our city has  available.

In fact, they tell us, Chicago has a bit of a housing crisis right now because of all the Syrian refugees who arrived since last June. So, many of the newly-arrived are being housed temporarily in hotels until the appropriate agencies can get them settled.

To make matters worse, about half the governors, almost all Republicans, declared almost a year ago that they would not allow Syrian refugees into their states. Governor Rauner was one of them.

“So thank goodness,” says Sahloul, “the courts just two days ago I believe struck down a case in Indiana in which similarly, the threat in Indiana was to shut Syrians out, and the courts found you in fact cannot discriminate against a category of people. All refugees, okay, you can shut your doors to all refugees, and we can make the case for all the reasons you wouldn’t want to do that. The refugees bring a thriving community, and especially in cities where sort of the inner city core has been hollowed out by a move to the suburbs. You bring folks who have an unbelievable skillset, entrepreneurial skills that revitalize a city, and you bring folks who are community-driven and who are eager to contribute to the communities that they arrive in.”

“What we do see in Illinois,” Sahloul continues, “is that the constituents of our Governor, the folks that are living here are opening their arms, in many cases their homes, and in lots of cases their wallets to support the folks who are arriving. The refugee resettlement agencies and the mutual assistance agencies that are here, so the agencies that are tasked with serving refugees when they first arrive are literally overwhelmed.”

We’ve all seen the horrifying images of Aleppo, the Syrian city that’s been all but destroyed by the country’s own president and his allies. Sahloul puts that into perspective for us, pointing out that Aleppo is about the size of metro Chicago, and similar in many ways.

“Damascus is the oldest inhabited City in the world,” she explains, “But Aleppo is just as old as Damascus, and actually it’s on the silk route that Marco Polo used to take. It’s a popular trading spot in the olden days when traders from all over used to come and they would stop in Aleppo. It’s cuisine, it’s culture, it’s fabric, it’s art. It’s a unique City even from the rest of Syria…the regime wants to suffocate Aleppo because it’s close to Turkey, and now they consider Turkey as an enemy, and so they need to suffocate the City, and if they can control Aleppo then they know that the whole uprising will be over. So what’s happening now is that they are dropping barrel bombs. Barrel bombs are very dumb bombs, cheap bombs that are barrels stuffed with shrapnel and TNT that are dropped from helicopters on hospitals and schools.

Which brings us to Bana, the Anne Frank of Aleppo..

“Bana, she is 7 years old and she has been using her mother’s Twitter (@alabedbana) to take pictures and to live tweet what’s happening in Aleppo,” Sahloul explains. “So she would write, ‘I’m hearing bombs now. I’m hearing this. I hope we survive. I hope the barrel bomb doesn’t drop on our apartment building.’ She takes pictures ‘this is where my friend used to live. This is where so and so used to play. This is where we used to go to school. I don’t have school.’ She has been out of school for a year now. Her mother was an English teacher, so she’s been teaching her English at home and she’s been using that English to tweet. And so this is how a lot of people now started saying ‘well this is exactly like what happened to Anne Frank,’ and we know the tragic ending of Anne Frank’s family. I just don’t comprehend in the 21st Century when we’re seeing all that we’re seeing, these live images. Getting them immediately. It’s not like we have to wait until history class to read about them.”




We ask how a sophisticated, educated city can turn on itself – driving one part of the population against another and destroying everything in the city in the process.

Darrow, says she’s thought about that a lot, especially since her research in Rwanda. “What are the conditions and what is the context,” she’s asked herself, “in which there’s so much fear and so much hatred and so much “other-ing”. Here we are in Chicago at a time where, in the United States of America where the politics are about creating another and about identifying differences as opposed to similarities…Islamophobia is a very very serious and real and flourishing phenomenon of hate in our country. And so I would say oh gosh, we’re not that different. The context might be different, and conditions. That’s the difference I think. But seeing the rise of hate and racism and Islamophobia in our country, or the stoking of something that might already have been there reminds me that there’s nothing different about the United States, except for timing and condition.”

You can read a full transcript of this show HERE: cn-transcript-oct-6-2016


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CN September 29 2016


Wanna know a big reason why people are shooting their fellow citizens on Chicago’s streets?  Because they can. Because there are few, if any, consequences.

“95% of the time if you shoot somebody and they survive you’re going to get away with it in Chicago. That is why this is going on,” declares Frank Main, the Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter at the Sun-Times.

In fact, the CPD’s “clearance rate,” even for murders, has fallen to around 20%. So even if you kill somebody, there’s an excellent chance you’ll get away with it.

With the ranks of Chicago’s detective force dropping by about 300 since 2008, the remaining 900-odd detectives are simply overwhelmed with this year’s 500 murders and 3,000-plus shootings, various news organizations have reported. And that’s not counting the thousands of still-active cases from years past.

But Mayor Emanuel and other city leaders, while calling for more detectives, insist that the bigger problem is lenient judges who let shooters back onto the streets. And they want mandatory-minimum sentences for the possession of an illegal gun and increased penalties for any crime committed with a gun.

“It sounds good to create a big mandatory minimum sentence like two or three years for possession of a gun,” Main explains, ” but the reality… and what actually happens, judges will simply dismiss a case if they don’t think that this person should go to prison for three or two years, or a deal will be cut where the person is no longer charged with the crime that would put them in prison for two or three years, a lesser crime, and so the same old thing would happen.”

Main tells us that a different approach, offered by State Senator Kwame Raoul, sends a list of proposed sentences to the judge and requires  judges who don’t follow the guidelines to explain in writing why they didn’t. We ask Main if there are, as  some people charge, just a bunch of lenient judges who are really soft on shooters.

“No,” he explains. “They are soft on possessionary gun crimes, so there’s a difference. I think the judges see so much violence and shootings and murder in their courtrooms that when somebody comes in for just carrying a gun they don’t believe that that’s a serious a crime…”

We also talk about “de-escalation.” The CPD has started training its officers in the practice, hoping to curb police-related violence. Main says it can be helpful, but only within limits.

“You know the older guys have their way that they do things,” Main tells us, “But the younger guys are more trainable I would think, and the people coming out of the academy the most so. I think you do have to go in and tell all the officers about what you expect them to do, you know. Hopefully some of this works and it de-fuses some situations that wind up going south.”

The show opens with a conversation about Main’s recent “Life on a Ledge” suite of stories and graphics, which tell the story of Kendra Smith, who took her own life in a jump from a roof near Main’s home. Main was so deeply affected by the fall, which he witnessed, that it dogged him for a long time, and he persuaded his editors to do a “deep dive” into the story. It’s an incredibly emotional venture into the remarkable highs and severe lows of Kendra’s life, and the many people she touched.

You can read a full transcript of this show HERE:  cn-transcript-sep-29-2016




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CN Sep 22 2016


On the morning after Mayor Emanuel’s highly-promoted speech on crime and safety, there’s a broad range of reactions. And it seems fair to say that most reactions are in some way or another critical.

We recorded our program a few hours before the speech, so the comments of our panelists were limited to the things we already knew about the Mayor’s address, such as his plan for 970 new hires at the police department.

Dahleen Glanton’s been writing for the Tribune for almost 30 years. This year she became a columnist. She has deep roots in the issues,  history and culture of Chicago.

“I think one of the most important elements is police training,” she tells us. “And I don’t care what race you are, you have to know how to deal with these kind of situations because African American cops are kind of under the same pressure as white cops, and there have been some shootings involving some minority cops. So to me the key has to be to make sure that these cops get the proper support and the proper training to be able to do their jobs.”

Glenn Reedus has been a Chicago journalist, writer and editor for decades.

He agrees that there is a call in parts of the African American community for increased police presence. But, he cautions, “there’s a huge number of elements. There’s the inability to get a job because of something that happened in the past. There are substandard services. There are substandard products in your community. You live in the City, the job is in the suburbs, you don’t have a way to get to the suburbs. There’s just no one or two things you can put your finger on and say this is what’s wrong.”

And the aforementioned training is, in itself, controversial. What kind of training? Mayor Emanuel has called for an emphasis on “de-escalation” techniques, and wants mandatory classes  in the procedure to begin quickly.

“Just two days of training?” Reedus asks. “This is not about these guys not knowing how to speak to people. It’s about these guys who grew up in a place where black folks were looked down upon and they carried that with them…so two days, what’s that going to be, 16 hours and suddenly you’re going to talk to people calmly because you’ve gone through this training and they’re having an episode?”

The Mayor is also seeking funding for $30 million in mentoring for “every 8th, 9th and 10th grader” in the 20 highest crime areas of the city. One of the most often-mentioned mentoring groups is Becoming a Man.

“It’s helpful, putting some resources to BAM I think is helpful,” Reedus says. “At the same time, I don’t know if kids who are seeking, boys who are seeking mentoring are the ones who are out in the street doing the dirt. And then you give it to that select group mentors, but what about the older folks? And I’ve talked about Cease Fire incessantly. I love Cease Fire. That’s where big chunks of money need to go, because you can get an immediate impact.”

“You know, one of the things I think we forget is how smart these guys are,” adds Glanton. “I mean they watch what is happening in this City. They know that the police are not making as many arrests. They know that people are not, crimes are not being solved.  They know they can get away with these things, so there is no reason to stop because you’re not going to get caught, and that’s frightening to me.”

Glanton has written of her conditional support for stronger gun laws, a key issue for the Mayor and police department. It’s possibly the most hotly debated issue in the police-reform discussion, and it has been opposed by most black state legislators because they say it simply provides a pathway for sending more young African Americans into the penal system.

“I think there has to be a middle point on this,” Glanton asserts. “I am just as concerned as everyone else about young people getting trapped in this cycle of prison. I don’t think that’s a good thing. But, isn’t there some way where we could say after the first or even maybe the second event that you go to jail for the maximum if you are caught with an illegal gun? I don’t know why that would be a problem. I mean maybe someone else does, but to me if you want to get these repeat offenders off the street you have to do that. Now, for the young people and anybody else who needs it after that first offense, maybe there’s counseling, maybe there’s intervention, maybe there’s whatever it is you might want to participate in, but if you keep doing it you need to go to jail. And I don’t see why that’s an issue.”

And Reedus agrees that there’s an immediate need to get the most violent offenders off the streets.

“One of the things that we know about some of these offenders is that they are repeat offenders, and especially with the gun situation, so yeah, if you can lock up someone who has been involved in a shooting before, get that person off the street then of course it’s going to impact the numbers in the long-run, I think.”

“I mean, we’re losing a whole generation of young men,” Reedus adds, “and they are recruiting younger kids, and that’s why I think expanding the BAM program is so important because these kids are getting involved in this younger and younger.”

You can read a complete transcript of the show HERE: cn-transcript-sept-22-2016

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CN September 15 2016

We take a step back today to attempt a look at the big picture. And our guide is Daniel Kay Hertz, proprietor of the City Notes blog. 

What are the big problems facing Chicago to which we’re not paying attention? De-densification, for example. What are the big changes happening in Chicago that are flying under the radar? How about fascinating population shifts as lots of Chicagoans move to the suburbs (yes, that’s still a thing) and other groups fill in the vacant spots?

And what’s the future of the Loop Link Transitway? Is it succeeding? What happened to the Ashland Bus Rapid transit? Will the CTA ever build that Red Line extension to 13oth? Can Metra save the suburbs from themselves? He’s an avowed bus fan, and he laments the falling numbers for Chicago’s bus system.

Daniel Hertz is a City Nerd. He studies data, maps and trends. And he shares his insights with us, for almost an hour. If you love discussions about urban policy and planning in Chicago and the region, this show’s for you.

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CN September 8 2016

Chicago, sadly, is right at the 3,000-people-shot-this-year mark.

We talk about it today with the Reader’s Sarah Macaraeg, who co-wrote, along with Allison Flowers, the deeply-researched article Charged With Murder, but They Didn’t Kill Anyone, Police Did.

Legendary Chicago journalist Laura Washington’s with us today, too. She works for both the Sun Times and ABC7.

Here are some highlights from our conversation, along with time posts to find them in the video.

Laura Washington on Police Supt. Eddie Johnson:

(3:20) He inherited a nightmare job. Thank God it was him. As we know there was supposedly a hiring process, a selecting process that went somewhat awry because the Mayor chose not to pick from the Police Board recommendations, but we got to Johnson and he’s got an…to me an unsolvable job. I mean he can’t do what he’s been charged with doing, which is to bring the crime levels down, but I think one of the most important things he’s done is he’s acknowledged unlike his predecessor Garry McCarthy, he’s acknowledged that the crime is out of control. He’s acknowledged the Police Department has not been able to deal with it. And up until now there’s always been conversations about the numbers and spinning, and it’s not as bad as it appears to be. The most important thing I think he’s done too is say it’s not just our problem, it’s a social problem, it’s a gun problem and we have to work on solving this together.

Sarah Macaraeg reacts to public defender Amy Campinelli’s op-ed in the Tribune

(9:43)in her op-ed she lays out the results of the war on drugs, how all of that increased criminalization, how all of those increased policing has really sort of built-up a prison industrial complex that has really disappeared, you know generations of black and Latino young men. And she raises the question of why would a war on…how would a war on guns have different results, and then she points to deeper underlying problems.

Macaraeg on aldermanic calls for 500additional police officers

(11:40)  what if it wasn’t just a matter of you know, 500 police, but 500 social workers? And what if it wasn’t just having a presence, but it was also like okay, a presence, and also a presence in school, and then also scholarships, and a whole pathway to success instead of pathways to criminalization?

Washington on the need for improved training at CPD

(12:46) I was talking early this week with Rudy Nimocks. I don’t know if you remember that name.  He was a top deputy superintendent during the Harold Washington years…He talks about the changes he’s seen in terms of police work. And what he talks about needing more now than ever is frankly better training and better orientation of cops with the community. He goes back on the community policing issue, he was doing community policing before they called it community policing, and he talks about how cops are hunkered, as we all know they are hunkered down now, they don’t talk to people anymore. They don’t connect. They’re afraid. The citizens are afraid of the cops and the cops are afraid of the citizens, and he says until you break that down you can put another 500 or another 1,000 cops on the street… it’s so easy to grab at the obvious solution. We can put more money that we don’t have into additional cops, but what about all these other extenuating circumstances. If we don’t do something about these other issues, if we don’t do something about the community policing aspect, the relationship aspect, the 1,000 cops are not going to be any more effective than the ones that ones that went before them….it’s going to take years to get these people trained and on the streets, if you don’t train them properly, if you don’t engage them properly, if you don’t send the message that you can’t go out there and be cowboys anymore, you’ve got to work with the community, we may still be in the same place

Macaraeg discusses her Reader article about the Felony Murder Rule

(21:30) In Cook County in the last five years there are ten instances, at least ten instances in which a civilian has been charged with murder for a killing that was committed by police…in all of these instances, there was an incident in which a person died and that the homicide occurred as a result of police action, shooting or a fatal police chase. So it was widely recognized, and yet through Illinois criminal code the State’s Attorney pressed charges against people for first degree murder. And that all takes place under a very controversial legal doctrine called the Felony Murder Rule, and that posits that in the commission of a felony, and some of these were alleged felonies, but in the commission of a felony someone sets out to commit a felony, in doing so they set in motion a chain of events that led to the death of the other person.

Washington on the critical role the State’s Attorney plays in deploying “felony murder” charges

23:40)  we’ve been hearing this for years, but particularly during this most recent State’s Attorney’s race with Anita Alvarez, we’ve heard that there is a closeness, there is a familiarity, there is a collaboration between the police and the State’s Attorney’s office. They tend to advocate for the police’s point of view. That’s why we ended up with a disaster around Laquan McDonald, the lack of prosecution in that case.

Washington on the power-position in which Eddie Johnson finds himself right now

(28:30)  I think Eddie Johnson has tremendous amount of leverage, and I think part of the reason is what I alluded to before about the way he came in. You know Rahm bypassed the system, bypassed the process to bring i his guy. He owns this guy, but Eddie Johnson in some ways because of that owns him. He didn’t need this job.

You can read a full transcript of this program in Word format HERE: cn-transcript-sep-8-2016


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CN September 1 2016



Troy LaRaviere resigned this week from his position as principal at Blaine Elementary. That’s not big news, since he had already won election as the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. But his resignation cleared the deck at Blaine, allowing the school to move on and find a new permanent principal. And it eliminated the likelihood a public spectacle as he fought CPS and Mayor Emanuel, who had tried to fire him for “political activity” while he was the highly-regarded principal.

It’s generally accepted that LaRaviere was punished because he began speaking out vey publicly about what he considered to be wrong-headed policies enacted by  CPS and the Mayor.  It all began on May 10, 2014, when LaRaviere posted a scathing critique of the Mayor in a Sun-Times Op-Ed. It’s no longer available at the Sun-Times Web site, but you can read it HERE.

Ben Joravsky is a political columnist for the Chicago Reader, who’s been covering Chicago, its mayors, its communities and city council for decades.

Both are our panelists on today’s show.

A few highlights:

LaRaviere on the devastating effects of so-called school-based budgeting on Chicago’s schools

It’s a way to reduce funding in the schools and then shift the blame for the consequences onto the principal who has to make the decisions about what to cut. So it helps them to 1) reduce the funding, and take the funds and divert them; and 2),  take less blame for it because you can say, well, I didn’t cut the position, the principal cut the position. But the principal didn’t have a choice.

Joravsky on the potential for change represented by LaRaviere’s election to the Principals Association

Ben: This is where Troy’s group has the potential to really be a game-changer in Chicago because principals have always lined up behind whatever cockamamy ideas have come out of City Hall. But if principals stop doing that, politically it may be harder for the mayor to sell these ideas, whether it’s a longer school day, changing the school formula, or privatizing janitorial services so we end up with dirtier schools than we had before…if principals speak out and oppose these positions…then maybe we could see some change in Chicago.

LaRaviere:  Emanuel’s policies impede recruitment

It is important for us as principals to be able to recruit good people into our schools. And we cannot recruit good people, or our ability to do that will be far less, if the Mayor gets his way in Chicago and devalues the value of teaching and learning in Chicago and continues his anti-teacher narrative. No-one wants to work in a district where the mayor has this anti-teacher narrative and blames them for his own fiscal mis-management. And says they have to be held responsible because the politicians we all elected threw away their pension money building  schools.

LaRaviere on the CTU

In order to stand firm they’re going to have to feel like they have some public support. And they’re gonna have to generate it with talking points that are more effective, and get repeated more often, than the ones the Mayor repeats. They have their talking points. They repeat them relentlessly. So I’ll be on the street and I’ll hear someone say, oh, yea, the teachers should pay into their (pension), without understanding what’s behind that talking point, and the falsehoods that are behind that talking point. So they have to come up with points that are just as succinct. That actually explain the truth of the matter and could get public support behind them standing firm on the respect due to the people who educate the children of Chicago. Respect in the form of their working conditions and their compensation.

LaRaviere’s response to a question about whether the Mayor, whose position on policing and community relations has shifted siginificantly in the past few months, might also change his views about education policy

Only if the people force him to. Because he didn’t pivot on the police. He came out with his “lone officer” theory and the only thing that changed it was the uproar and the protests in the streets and the call for his resignation. And he came back a little softer and a little more willing to admit something might be wrong. It didn’t work. There was still an uproar in the streets, and that uproar caused a national call for his resignation. And then there was the famous City Council speech. He’ll go as far as the public pushes him. That goes back to my point about CTU and their talking points and their advocacy and the relationship-building with different organizations across the city that care about eduction to push him the way those protesters – and create the kind of uproar – the kind of critical mass of public support for their position. That’s the only thing that’s going to change the Mayor.

Joravsky’s response to the same question

The Mayor’s attitude toward police and his attitude toward education are dramatically different. If you just look at his first four years, the Mayor acted as though the issue of the police relationship with poor black communities was a non-existent issue. It didn’t matter to him. Everything changed with the release of the LaQuan McDonald video. It wasn’t even the shooting that changed people’s attitude, because it was the release of the video that totally undercut whatever the mayor was saying about him. In terms of education, the mayor ran into office with a very proactive point of view, which was essentially, shift from public schools to charter schools, be tougher on teachers, try to whittle away at tenure, move more money under his direct control. So I think it’s gonna be harder to get the Mayor to have a conversion on education. Because politically he thinks it’s to his advantage to be hard on teachers. To use principals as props. He just figured there was no point in getting involved in the police matters – there’s no way to win it politically – so just ignore it. Pretend it wasn’t there. And then when he couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there any more he started inventing policies. So, you know, these problems have been around forever. Well, didn’t they exist the first for years you were Mayor? So…I think it’s gonna be harder to get the Mayor to change his ways in terms of education, because I think politically he believes (not changing) will benefit him.

You can read a full transcript HERE: CN transcript Sept 1 2016

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CN August 25 2016


The CPS Board was very busy yesterday. They passed a $5.4 billion operating budget, along with  a basket-ful of big-ticket borrowing. There was about a billion for capital projects like new schools and additions, air conditioning and internet upgrades and lots more. Then there was the billion-and-a-half for a short-term loan just to get the system’s cash-flow in order.

Juan Perez, Jr watches and reports on all of this for the Chicago Tribune.

He tells us that the budget has lots of problems. First, there’s the $215 million that the State has promised, and the Board has budgeted to spend, although it isn’t coming unless the Governor agrees that there’s been “pension reform.” But nobody really knows what that means.

“I asked different sets of people about what this grand bargain on pension reform might entail and I get three different answers sometimes,” Perez explains. You know the rules of the game haven’t really been established with enough clarity to satisfy me at this point, or I think a lot of other people. I think different folks are convinced of what the idea might be. Would it be Cullerton’s consideration idea? Would it be getting downstate teachers to pay more into TRS? But there’s so many factors here  and this is an election year not to mention. So what is going to satisfy the Governor? Ultimately it’s got to get his signature…”

And, he says, time is really getting short. “But there needs to be an answer here soon, otherwise you know the district is in all likelihood going to have to come through with some serious level of cuts. And let’s be honest here, this operating budget has already relied on a lot of cuts to schools that we have no reason to believe are fake in any way. I mean schools are expressing a lot of pain coming from this.”

But that’s not all.  CPS baked about another $35 million into this cake that has to come from concessions in the CTU contract, and nobody seems to know how that’ll go, either.

“Is there a deal in sight?,” he wonders. “I don’t know. I think Karen Lewis recently expressed some optimism to me that talks were going pretty well, but that the framework of this deal that CPS offered in late January wasn’t going to fly with members…but the district has sought to make its position very clear that there is not a lot of fiscal flexibility as far as whatever its contract offer might be. So you know, that sounds like an impasse to me, potentially.”

The big question is whether the Union is willing to strike, or could sustain a lengthy one. “If they want a strike what is it that they’re going to walk out on? How are they going to justify it and then how are they going to bring the members back in, too? Especially if the school district and the Mayor’s office are going to continue asserting that the financial framework of what they tried offering back then is going to have to stay pretty rigid.”

But beyond all that, says Perez, that short-term 1.5 billion dollar loan is so huge that it’ll cost about $35 million in interest.

“There is no way this budget works. There is not enough cash on hand to pay bills as they come in without this line of credit – without 1.555 billion dollars in short-term debt. It’s akin to a payday loan,” he explains.

“The basis of the problem is the reserves have been all but completely exhausted. That’s why the Board erected this financial policy back in 2008,” he tells us. “They had wanted this on hand so they could avoid these sort of peaks and valleys as best they could. Those days are over.”


However, things really are different this year. There are permanent funding sources in place, in the form of new dedicated tax levies for pensions and physical plant improvements. And even in Springfield, there are hints of actual commitments.

“…there are some differences in the dynamics, I suppose,” asserts Perez.”You actually have legislation that’s passed. You actually have commitments from legislative leaders saying we’re going to get this done. But remember, we’re banking on Springfield. We’re banking on the Capitol. We’re banking on a Capitol that’s in some serious dysfunction right now.”

And the legislators do have a powerful incentive.  “…they all want to get re-elected. I mean we’re presuming that they all want to get re-elected. So things are reaching a point potentially where there’s enough pressure that they know that if this doesn’t come through there’s going to be a real problem.”

We also discuss the new CPS policy that co-mingles funding for special education students with the general education budgets. Some observers are saying that the policy forces principals to choose between the two populations, but principals are told they must satisfy the special-ed needs first. Perez says it puts principals in a difficult position with the school’s parents.

“The question is whether the slice of the pie that I’ve been given now to pay for this is A) substantial enough to cover all the needs of my special education students, B) whether I’m going to have to dip into other funds that are meant for other purposes to help make that work before taking care of my general education population, before taking care of the rest of my students. And so when you’re sitting here in the school office with your ledger trying to make the numbers work, oftentimes that leaves principals with a very difficult decision, and I think that’s what a lot of the pushback that you’re seeing from the community right now, like how is this actually going to work? And what ultimately happens, some folks are saying, is that it creates, or has at least the potential to create, a schism within a school community, where the needs of one population are pitted against the needs of another population.”

You can read a full transcript of this show in Word format HERE:CN transcript Aug 25 2016

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CN Aug 18 2016


“Milwaukee has such an extremely high unemployment rate for black men,” explains NPR’s Cheryl Corley, having just returned from covering the unrest there over the past few days. “They have the highest incarceration rate in the country for black men, and so you have all of these problems that exacerbate the kind of situation that happens there and it really frustrates people, so you have this kind of powder keg kind of waiting to explode. So when these things do happen in communities you see what happened with the riots that broke out there, the arson that occurred. There’s no excuse for that sort of thing happening, but you have the conditions there that make it happen.”

We’re talking about the similarities between Chicago and its northern neighbor, and trying to see what we might have in common.

“These are things that are created by forces bigger and stronger than the police,” asserts Black Star Project‘s Phillip Jackson. “And then after these problems are created they send in the police to tamp down the communities of violence. The police have no chance of succeeding in that situation, none.”

“On this past 4th of July weekend last year 65 people were shot in Chicago,” he continues. “And so Superintendent Johnson ramps up and he brings in 5,000 additional officers, the State Police, Cook County Sheriffs, Chicago Policemen who would have been off. He brings in 5,000 additional officers, and they call it success, because instead of having 65 shootings they had 63, and that’s my example. There are not enough policemen in China to stop what’s happening in black communities across this country.”

The police can’t be blamed for the underlying dysfunction of unemployment, disinvestment and sub-standard education services. But Corley says there’s plenty of blame for them to share. She cites as an example Philando Castile, the man shot near Minneapolis in his car by a police officer as his girl-friend live-steamed the entire event. Corley was there for NPR, too.

“Philando Castile seemed to be a target,” she claims. “He was stopped during his lifetime in 46 traffic stops. The first time he was stopped was before his 19th birthday when he still had his learner’s permit, and the last stop of course on July 6th. I believe that was the day when he died. But yeah, he was stopped. It was a life of traffic fines and being stopped by the police.”

Jackson adds that a major aspect of the sour police/community relations is recruitment. “There was a quote that came up once that I would like to repeat, ‘you cannot serve us if you don’t know us’ and that’s where we are with the Chicago Police Department. They are trying to serve and protect people that they don’t really know, and it’s never going to be as successful as it could be.”

Despite decades of trying, Jackson says the racial composition of the police force in troubled African-America neighborhoods is far out of sync with the communities.

“It is absolutely important. And my point is that a part of the fix for policing in Chicago has got to be adding more high quality African American candidates to the pool. It’s got to be. Now, I’m not blaming the Police Department here. Chicago Public Schools have a part in this as well in terms of producing people who can become candidates, but the Police Department if they are going to be successful they are going to have to be reflective of the communities that they are working to serve and protect.”

We talk at some length about the changes being brought about by the availability of video from dash-cams, body cams and civilian smart-phones. Corley says this could compare to another historic moment.

“When we look at all these cases and we look at all this video that comes through,” she says, “I often think about what made change happen. If you think about the Civil Rights Movement it was a photograph that kind of galvanized that with Emmett Till, right, when his mom decided I want the world to see this. And so what you have happening with these videos now is that people are seeing things that are happening and you have to believe, because a lot of times people don’t believe.”

Phillip Jackson tells us about a major effort to bring masses of people into the streets in ten of the most violence-plagued areas of the city during the Labor Day weekend. It’s being called Community Peace Surge, and it’s in response to the FOP’s call for police officers not to work overtime during the challenging weekend.



We ask him whether it will be difficult to convince people in the most violent neighborhoods to come out of their house and demonstrate their support. He acknowledges that it could be tough. But, he says, “You can live your life being afraid and probably the bad things that you think might happen they’re going to happen anyway, or you can live your life being unafraid and working towards the kind of community and the kind of City that you deserve.”

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